Depression Often Starts in Childhood
New research shows that depression starts early in life.
If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms for longer
than two weeks, you should consult your pediatrician, says Hockey. "Many of
these symptoms can also be traced to physical complaints -- such as thyroid
problems, mononucleosis, immune system disorders, long-term antibiotic use, or
chronic, long-term allergies -- so it's important to get an accurate
Infants and toddlers, who are not at the same stage of
expressing themselves as older children, may still exhibit symptoms of
depression; in their case, says Fassler, pay attention if your child is
withdrawn, doesn't smile, doesn't want to play, won't interact with other
people, and starts losing weight.
If your doctor does think treatment for depression is
indicated, childhood mental health experts emphasize that it's usually very
successful. With a multi-pronged approach of individual, family, and/or school
counseling -- and perhaps the use of antidepressants -- 75% to 80% of children
suffering from depression can be successfully treated, says Fassler. Without
treatment, he says, many will go on to have a second episode of depression
within two years.
Children who are too young to talk can still be effectively
treated through play therapy, says Fassler. "Even when kids don't have
words, we can still find out what's going on."
Hockey says that childhood depression can be prevented -- or at
least, the risk factors for depression can be lowered, just as risk factors for
heart disease or type 2 diabetes can be lowered.
There are many risk factors for childhood depression, Hockey
says. Many of them are environmental and changeable. "Reducing the number
of risk factors reduces the chances a child will experience most forms of
clinical depression," she says.
"In addition to the more obvious things like being sure
your children eat healthily, get exercise, and are not under unreasonable
stress for their age, you can reduce the risk factors for depression by being
aware that there are certain life skills, ways of perceiving life events, and
problem-solving skills that seem to shield children from depression," she
Having a depressed parent is one of the most critical risk
factors for a child, says Hockey. "Children of depressed parents are four
times more likely to experience depression than children with non-depressed
parents. It is vital that depressed parents seek treatment for their own
depression if they want their children to be depression-free."
While childhood depression is a serious illness, Hockey says,
parents need to know they can do something about it. "Don't sit back and
take a 'wait-and-see' approach," she stresses. "That doesn't cut